What is grieving like?

Grieving doesn't always begin when someone dies

When someone is ill for some time, they and their loved ones often begin to grieve for their death before it happens. While there may be a lot of attention taken up with caring for a very sick person in the family, there's still often the thought: "How will it be when they are not here?" "How will I cope on my own?"

Sometimes people are shocked by how little they feel when their loved one actually dies. At times like this they sometimes comment that they feel they've done much of their grieving already. This is a normal response, and doesn't mean that they're denying the loss.

Some people feel a sense of relief that the person has died and no longer suffering or in pain. People often feel guilty about this but it is a normal response. Caring can be exhausting both physically and emotionally.

Some people find they were not as affected by their loss as they expected at the time of the death, but find it harder as time passes. This is quite normal.

Grieving is an up and down process

Grieving isn't something you begin one day, move through step by step and arrive unchanged from at the other end.

People sometimes speak of the 'stages' of grief, but, for most people, it's an up and down business: a bit like a roller coaster. Most find they move through it gradually, but don't despair if you find yourself at the beginning again and again – that's normal.

You might find there's a time of day, a song, a smell, an anniversary or doing something you used to do together that reminds you of them, and suddenly you feel emotional.

Grieving changes over time

When people find grief particularly hard they sometimes worry that they'll be unhappy for the rest of their lives. For most people it isn't like that. After a while the hurt will lessen. You may remember the funny things that make you laugh or smile. Surprisingly, you'll find yourself enjoying things and feeling enthusiastic about life again. For a lot of people, coping with grief doesn't mean getting over the loss; it's about finding ways to live with it and adjusting to life being different.

How long does it take?

Sometimes other people or you may expect you to be back to normal after just a few weeks or months. Friends and family may make comments like "Life has to go on. It's time to pick yourself up and get on with living." These comments could feel like criticism, and you may feel you're being told not to grieve any more.

For many people, though, it's a long time before the loss is no longer overwhelming. For some, grief never goes away completely. When someone has died, you may miss them throughout your life.

Try to be patient with yourself. Many people make things harder for themselves by saying "I should be over this by now". Giving yourself time to grieve allows you to acknowledge the person, your love for them and to make sense of all that has happened. They mattered; your relationship to them mattered.

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